Winnipeg Jewish Review  
Site Search:
Home  |  Archives  |  Contact Us
Features Local Israel Next Generation Arts/Op-Eds Editorial/Letters Links Obituary/In Memoriam

Sandy Shindleman and Alvin Rosenfeld
Credit: Joan Ste-Marie

Catherine Chatterley and Alvin Rosenfeld
Credit: Joan Ste-Marie

Alvin Rosenfeld At CISA's Shindleman Lecture : 2014 One of The Worst Years for Antisemitic Activity-How Do We Counter the Lies?

By Rhonda Spivak, May 15, 2015

Distinguished Judaic Studies Professor, Alvin Rosenfeld, from the University of Indiana, gave a wide-ranging and enlightening talk detailing the resurgence of antisemitism globally, noting that 2014 was one of the "worst years" for antisemitic activity in recent memory.


The Canadian Institute for the Study of Antisemitism (CISA) brought Rosenfeld to Winnipeg as this year's speaker for the Shindleman Family Lecture held at the Fort Garry Hotel.  


"I don't think it is possible to eliminate it (antisemitism). It goes in waves.  We are living in a time when the waves are up. I don't think we'll see it tapering off anytime soon, unless alliances are formed by people of good will to make sure it's contained." 


He began his talk to the packed ballroom by reviewing some statistics showing the number of synagogues attacked in Europe and the number of memorial sites and cemeteries defaced, and said that the overall feeling among Jews in Europe and certain south American countries is that they "are living in an intensifying anti-Jewish environment."


He pointed out that Atlantic Magazine recently had a feature article titled "Is it time for the Jews to leave Europe?”


"That question would not have been on anyone's mind ten years ago," Rosenfeld said, adding, "Jewish life is under a cloud in some European countries." He has friends in France who no longer keep a mezuzah on their door or wear kippot in public for fear of being targeted.  In Germany, a Jewish newspaper in Berlin has said it will deliver copies to subscribers in blank envelopes as a response to recent anti-Semitic attacks across Europe.  The measure hides the publication’s name. Rosenfeld noted that this is a sign of the uneasiness Jews in Europe are feeling.


Later, when asked if Israel’s behavior during the 2014 Hamas-Israel war can be considered the cause of increased antisemitic attacks in Europe, Rosenfeld said, “Israel isn't the cause of antisemitism,” pointing out that European antisemites aren't attacking Israeli embassies. “They are targeting Jewish schools and cemeteries. They are targeting Jews.”  Demonstrators in Europe have shouted “Back to the Ovens” and “Jews to the Gas.”  Rosenfeld added that when a person shouts out openly. “Kill the Jews,” it is because “he expects someone will do it.”


Rosenfeld also reviewed several incidents in the United States where Jews were shot inside the building of the Jewish Federation of Seattle, outside a Jewish community center in Kansas, in a bookstore café at Wesleyan University, and a security guard killed at the US Holocaust Museum in Washington.


He said that the onset of a "new antisemitism" dates back to the year 2000, with the collapse of the Camp David Peace talks and the Second Intifada. It escalated with the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the US in 2001, "for which Jews were widely if absurdly blamed." In 2003, President Bush’s few Jewish advisors were blamed for the US decision to go to war in Iraq.


In 2009, Israel’s battle against Hamas, as well as the global financial crisis, was deployed against the Jewish people in antisemitic rhetoric. Rosenfeld cited surveys by Pew and the Anti-Defamation League that show that many old antisemitic canards still resonate with large sections of the public, including the belief that Jews have too much power in the business world, and that Jews talk too much about the Holocaust. He noted further that 22% of Europeans still blame Jews for the death of Jesus.


“Jew hatred has been globalized,” Rosenfeld stated, “and the number of websites that are antisemitic only increases, making the problem worse.”


"Anti-Zionism is a forum for much of today's antisemitism," Rosenfeld added, noting that many Muslims do not believe in Israel's right to exist at all. Muslim extremists believe that the land belongs exclusively and eternally to Muslims, and that jihad is "a duty." He quoted a sermon recently delivered in a mosque and broadcast over Palestinian Authority television inciting all Muslims to be jihadists and imploring Muslims to “fight the Jews and kill them.”  


Rosenfeld admits “there are more moderate voices” in the Muslim world, people such as Ayaan Hirsi Ali (who lives under armed guard protection), Bassam Tibi, and Canadian Tarek Fatah, but “they have a tough time competing with militant radical Islam.”


"Israel has lost favor in European eyes," Rosenfeld also stated. This has occurred for several reasons, including the fact that at a time when Western European elites have become more "cosmopolitan," Israel "stands out as a strong nation state." When "many in the European Union have abandoned religion and are living in a post Christian era," Israel is regarded as giving religion too large a place in its body politic. Additionally, at a time when the European Union "favors soft power" and non-military solutions to problems (such that military budgets in Europe are decreasing), "Israel is seen as being all too ready to go to war" to defend itself.  For these reasons, and other factors, Rosenfeld concluded, "Israel appears anachronistic and out of sync with the times."


Rosenfeld cited a poll from Germany showing that 68% of Germans believe that Israel is waging a “war of extermination against the Palestinian people,” and another poll showing that a majority of Europeans regard Israel as the biggest threat to world peace.


He explained that to call into question the Jewish state's right to exist, or to target it for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) is to move well beyond the bounds of legitimate criticism, and into antisemitism.  “Opposing Israel’s settlement of the West Bank or treatment of Palestinians ‘is, in itself, not antisemitic,’ but questioning Israel’s right to exist crosses the line.” He also indicated that in his home state of Indiana, following Tennessee, a bill has been passed banning BDS. 


He also gave high praise to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper for showing moral clarity on issues relating to antisemitism. “I'd trade my President [Obama] in for your Prime Minister in a minute,” he said.


When asked by a member of the audience what can be done to "counter the lies," Rosenfeld responded that firstly, they must be called lies, as opposed to “fudging the issue.” He continued, “Antisemitism is a passion before it is a political issue,” and “it cannot be treated casually.” Jews and others need to be involved in combating it and “legislation needs to be passed.” 


When asked about the treatment of Christians in the Muslim world, Rosenfeld said that many of the oldest Christian communities in the Middle East “are being decimated as we speak tonight.”  


“Antisemitism goes hand in hand with murderously passionate actions against Christians,” he stated, adding that  “ISIS is literally crucifying Christians” and burning them alive, and “no one has come up with any answer.” He said that ISIS is recruiting people "pretty easily" and "there's no real force being brought against them."


When asked about the fact that out of several billion Muslims only a small percentage are extremist, Rosenfeld responded that if this minority "feel that they can go on a rampage" that is a significant threat. He clarified, "All of Islam isn't antisemitic, but the rest of Islam (the non-antisemitic majority) doesn't seem to have the power to contain or restrain those who are radicalized," and the number of radicalized Muslims is "growing."


In answer to another question about the fact that many critics of Israel are Jewish, Rosenfeld noted that in 2006 he wrote ‘Progressive’ Jewish Thought and the New Anti-Semitism, which "brought the roof down on him."


He wrote about how a "number of Jews, through their speaking and writing, are feeding a rise in virulent antisemitism by questioning whether Israel should even exist". What accounts for the fact that some of the most strident adversaries against the State of Israel are themselves Jews? He responded that "Jews are not a normal people" and given their history "they are a traumatized people," and "some Jews have internalized negative stereotypes [about Jews]."  He also said that today "you will be the odd man out" if you want to be a "card carrying member of the Left" and you aren't anti-Israel.


Rosenfeld clarified that it would be a lot better if there could be a Palestinian State, but one must consider what has prevented this from happening. "Palestinians were offered that in 1948 and rejected it" and did so again at least three times since." (under Ehud Barak, Ehud Olmert and Netanyahu) “They were offered an independent state in 92% to 96% of the West Bank and Gaza and they refused."  Rosenfeld stressed, “[Yassir] Arafat said if he were to sign a peace treaty with Israel he would be assassinated and not by an Israeli.”   


Rosenfeld's son Gavriel Rosenfeld is a Holocaust scholar who has just written a book entitled "Hi Hitler" that looks at how the Nazi past is being normalized in contemporary culture. Three of Professor Rosenfeld's grandchildren are making aliya to Israel and he noted he is not discouraging them. "I thank God it [the State of Israel] exists and hope it remains for all of us for all time to come." 


Click here to see photos of the evening and to watch the lecture and discussion on CISA's website. 


<<Previous Article       Next Article >>
Subscribe to the Winnipeg Jewish Review
  • RBC
  • Titi Tijani
  • Jewish Federation of Winnipeg
  • PC Party
  • Jewish Federation of Winnipeg
  • Orthodox Union
  • Karyn and Mel Lazareck
  • Booke + Partners
  • Accurate Lawn & Garden
  • Coughlin Insurance Brokers
  • Munroe Pharmacy
  • Jim Muir
  • Daniel Friedman and Rob Dalgleish
  • Artista Homes
  • Fetching Style
  • Munroe Dental Centre
  • Cavalier Candies
  • Ronald B. Zimmerman
  • Viscont Gort
  • Safeway Tuxedo
  • Karyn & Mel Lazareck
  • MCW Consultants Ltd.
  • Red River Coop
  • Winnipeg Beach Home Building Centre
  • John Wishnowski
  • John Bucklaschuk
  • Tyler Bucklaschuk
  • Ingrid Bennett
  • Gulay Plumbing
  • Nick's Inn
  • Taverna Rodos
  • Holiday Inn Polo Park
  • Bob and Shirley Freedman
  • Elaine and Ian Goldstine
  • Josef Ryan
  • Western Scrap Metals Inc.
  • CdnVISA Immigration Consultants
  • Simmonds and Associates
  • Doheny Securities Limited
  • Canada Awakening Ministries
  • Fair Service
  • Dr. Marshall Stitz
  • Shindico
  • Astroid Management Limited
  • Piston Ring
  • Commercial Pool
  • Robin Shapiro Photography
  • Broadway Law Group
  • Sorrento's
  • Roseman Corp
  • Laufman Reprographics
  • Equitable Solutions
  • CVA Systems
  • Chochy's
  • Amalgamated Drywall
  • Ambassador Mechanical
  • Renew Mobility
  • Abe and Toni Berenhaut
  • Grant Kurian Trucking
  • Shoppers Drug Mart
  • kristinas-greek
  • The Center for Near East Policy Research Ltd.
  • Sarel Canada
  • Santa Lucia Pizza
  • Roofco Winnipeg Roofing
  • Center for Near East Policy Research
  • Nachum Bedein
Rhonda Spivak, Editor

Publisher: Spivak's Jewish Review Ltd.

Opinions expressed in letters to the editor or articles by contributing writers are not necessarily endorsed by Winnipeg Jewish Review.